43 comments

Holiday Romance Inspirational

Five days after Yom Kippur, David Jacob Tomaschewitz prayed for better challah sales to ensure his foundering bakery made a profit for the year.

Although business had been brisk for Rosh Hashanah, sales of Shabbat bread had consistently diminished, week by week, as other Jewish bakeries offered more than his meager shop—cookies! pastries! cakes!

David’s father had founded the bakery decades prior, specializing in traditional Jewish loaves of bread, including mountains of bagels his loyal customers bought by the brown-paper bagful. But this year? The challah sales would make or break him, whether his customers dipped it in honey for Rosh Hashanah or served it with salt for Shabbat.

Although the bakery had been on shaky financial grounds throughout the year, October’s sales had netted David around $1,900. A small fortune. His father would have been proud.

As his father had immigrated from Poland after the war, David made bialy in his honor—a traditional recipe from the Tomaschewitz family’s hometown of Bialystok. Since bialys were served with hot butter instead of cream cheese, commuters didn’t like them as well as bagels, so David usually ate the stale poppy seed rolls on his solitary lunch breaks. 

During the High Holy Days, David painstakingly made matzo and shewbread, carefully making rounds of holiday challah bread, sprinkled with fat juicy raisins. The circular shape symbolizes the cycle of years, his father would say, artfully braiding the dough. The raisins represent the sweetness of a new year. 

His father had passed away long ago. David wondered for the umpteenth time why he continued to wake up at 3:00 a.m., lug 50-pound sacks of flour from truck to kitchen, shell and fold cartons of eggs into batter, and watch sesame seeds toast just so in the hot ovens.

Exhausted at night, he looked at his finances and marginal return for his backbreaking labor and wondered. Years went by with no wife or son to pass on the Tomaschewitz name. Now at 57 years old, hair peppered with gray that he quit pretending was flour, he felt his life had been without purpose. It was like dead yeast, not rising to leaven anything of importance. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

Another bakery had opened on his block in September, but David had not found the time to visit his competition. However, the morning commuters had all come and gone, and it would be hours before the lunchtime crowd would pick up loaves for their supper tables.

Mid-morning was a slow time, a good time, to see who was filching his business. He locked the front door to the bakery and walked down the block.

At first, it didn’t seem like there would be much overlap in their clientele, as the new place seemed inordinately frilly, its sign scrawled in Comic Sans with dayglo colors announcing: Birnbaum Bakery.

The menu on the door listed all the delectable things David had loved as a child: chocolate babka, raspberry rugelach, coconut macaroons, apricot hamantaschen. Reading the list, David found his mouth involuntarily watered.

Suddenly the door opened, bells jingling. David quickly stepped aside as a tall, thin auburn-haired woman walked out, holding a broom like a weapon. Deftly, her broad shoulders made short work the detritus on the stoop in front of the store. She wore a spotless white apron with Birnbaum Bakery emblazoned in dayglo colors. 

“Are you open?” David asked. He felt foolish as it was abundantly clear the store was, indeed, open.

“Every day, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.,” she said without looking up, shaking out the welcome mat in a cloud of dust. 

“Do you sell bread?” he asked pointedly. She stopped curtly and looked at him, full in the face. Her large hazel eyes peered through him, attempting to divine whatever subtext was intended or unintended. 

“The only bread I make is stollen and occasionally hot cross buns, but only during the holidays,” she replied, managing a tired smile. 

“Those are Christmas breads,” he replied, puzzled. 

“Those are holiday breads,” she said, a little defensively. 

“Are you Missus Birnbaum?” 

“There is no Missus Birnbaum,” she said and smiled again, this time broadly and mischievously. “There's just me, Miss Colleen MacBrennen. And this is New York, not Boston. My customers prefer pastries from their own heritage,” she said flatly. He didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. 

With a wink, she gathered up her broom and left him staring after her. 

Standing there, it was a minute or two before David slowly began his walk back. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

Although David had not seen the inside of a synagogue since his own bar mitzvah, Temple Beth El had asked local businesses to donate goods for their annual Sukkot festival fundraiser. His father had always brought the biggest and most perfectly formed loaves to the temple’s auction, held in the social hall on the temple’s grounds. 

Tzedakah is Hebrew for charity, his father said, while his son calculated how much profit they would lose from his father’s generosity. At year’s end though, the amount was hardly missed. Bread is life, David. That’s why when we break bread, we say, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Normally, David would have dropped off his challah loaves and left, but for an inexplicable reason, he stayed to watch the start of the auction. The funds were needed to repair the temple's roof. Perhaps there would be enough to refinish the pews as well? The Rabbi even hoped for a new bimah to read scriptural passages from to his thinning congregation. 

Small children ran in and out of their parents' legs, as the excitement started to build. Which local delicacy would bring the highest bid? Tables were heaped with the largesse from the community: prune and poppy seed pastries, artisan honey, perfectly ripened pears, sufganiyot, black-and-white cookies. Congregants readied their wallets and pocketbooks. 

Just as the crowd settled into their seats, David watched as someone awkwardly attempted to carry a large platter through the social hall’s doorway, making a commotion and apologizing profusely for being late. 

He heard her voice before he saw her.

Colleen.

He half arose from his seat to watch Colleen struggle to carry her offering, quickly realizing she had fashioned a gingerbread synagogue, complete with a nine-branched candelabrum, a menorah the centerpiece of her elaborate icing landscape. 

As she walked past temple members who clapped their approval, she smiled, tucking a lock of her red hair behind one ear. David was charmed to see her blush from the crowd’s approbation.

“I see we have our first auction item from the Birnbaum Bakery, a replica of our own Temple Beth El,” called the Rabbi cheerfully. “I’ll start the bidding at, let’s say, twenty-five dollars? Anyone?”

“Twenty-five dollars,” called out a voice to David’s right.

“Thirty! Thirty dollars!” responded another voice on David’s left. 

“Thirty-five,” came a voice from somewhere behind him. 

David looked at Colleen. She smiled and shrugged, a wordless conversation that was more satisfying to David than any actual conversation he’d had before in his life.

“Do I hear forty dollars?” asked the Rabbi, scanning the crowd. 

Without thinking, David called out “$1,900.00!” 

The crowd cheered as the Irish pastry chef walked over to the Jewish baker, rewarding him with the prize he’d waited to buy his entire life. 

December 24, 2022 19:17

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43 comments

Liv Chocolate
22:13 Dec 25, 2022

Deidra--I love how you can flip between writing a speculative story to writing a hilarious story to writing a heartwarming holiday story almost on command. Usually people have only one type of story they have to stick to, because it's really the only type of story they know how to write. I noticed you have a way with describing strangers we come across in everyday life so realistically: “Every day, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.,” she said without looking up, shaking out the welcome mat in a cloud of dust. The occupied store clerk who we've...

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23:45 Dec 25, 2022

Hey Liv! Happy holidays to you and yours. I think you've described my bipolar writing style quite charitably -- as it's always based on my menopausal mood swings. So yes, quirky indeed -- hahah

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Liv Chocolate
00:01 Dec 26, 2022

Happy holidays to you too!! I'd love to see a Deidra horror story one day, or a Deidra holiday-horror story! XD always excited to see what genre you tackle next

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03:01 Dec 26, 2022

For horror, check out: Daniel Hayes (former pro wrestler) He's my fav: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/author/daniel-r-hayes/

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Liv Chocolate
04:47 Dec 26, 2022

Good rec!

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Wendy Kaminski
01:46 Dec 26, 2022

This was delightful! You have perfectly captured one of my favorite quotes, as portrayed as a surprise to even David himself: "There can be lunacy without love, but is there any great love without a little lunacy?" -Yochanan Tversky

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03:02 Dec 26, 2022

Thanks Wendy -- and what a wonderful quote. Tattoo-worthy :)

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Lei King
01:46 Dec 25, 2022

This was such a cute story! I really liked the confusion between David and Colleen. He didn't know whether to laugh or be offended. It's a common mishap. I really enjoyed the ending. Excitement mixed in with a wholehearted ending. This was such a great read. It was very cute and I hope to read more great stories like this in the future. Best regards, Lei Mendoza.

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23:43 Dec 25, 2022

I feel for David. I often have a hard time reading social cues, so I just soldier on and pray I'm not making an ass out of myself :)

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Starry Skies
15:41 Jan 06, 2023

This was lovely! Your mood changes were very fluid throughout the story, which I appreciated, I don't generally like when moods change with one word; it feels too sudden.

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17:10 Jan 05, 2023

This is so lovely! Your descriptions are so vivid, they made me hungry! I only wish I knew whether or not David did manage to save his bakery in the end.

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17:56 Jan 05, 2023

I think Colleen and David will decide to cut costs and share expenses, both professionally and personally. Happily ever after :)

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Molly Kelash
20:11 Jan 03, 2023

This was such a nice deep dive into Jewish holiday tradition through the lens of a bakery, and a heartwarming love story to boot. As others have mentioned, it made me hungry ;), but it also made me happy, and that is a lovely thing.

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21:15 Jan 03, 2023

YAY! Making other people happy ROCKS. Thanks for taking the time to read. Happy New Year :)

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Susan Catucci
14:56 Jan 03, 2023

What a life affirming read, Deidra - full of charm and delightful characters. Reminds me that when all is said and done, the money isn't what's remembered - the life lived is all that really mattered.

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21:15 Jan 03, 2023

Always time to eat more bread and to fall in love. Otherwise, what's a heaven for?

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Susan Catucci
21:55 Jan 03, 2023

Add cheese to that and I do believe that IS heaven!

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Kyle Bennett
00:59 Jan 03, 2023

I like when a story is set in a culture I can't relate to at all, but the story is completely relatable

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21:17 Jan 03, 2023

Ah, another bread aficionado. Merry Carbmas to you and Happy Gluten Year!

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Lily Finch
20:24 Dec 28, 2022

It was like dead yeast, not rising to leaven anything of importance. - Seems to mirror David's life at the moment. He has no heirs, no wife, and he is not rising to leaven anything of importance. At the end of the story, David is no longer focusing on himself. He now focuses on the Rabbi, the auction and the Jewish Baker's goods. He overbid with all of his profit money this month, and ..."he rewards himself with the prize he'd waited to buy his entire life." The reader feels he likes Colleen and hopes to pursue something with her later. A...

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19:04 Dec 30, 2022

Yep. Like yeast, may we all rise to the occasion when Cupid's arrows strike :)

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Michał Przywara
19:26 Dec 28, 2022

"Bread is life, David" - yes, indeed! You have no idea how hungry this story made me :) The story's sweet. David enters a massive life crisis, realizing his days are running out and he has nothing other than a work legacy to show for it. The comparison "It was like dead yeast, not rising to leaven anything of importance" is brilliant. But despite the crisis, he doesn't panic. Instead, he looks deeper for meaning, and looks outside himself too. Perhaps it suits the season that he finds salvation inside a synagogue, but it's also curious it ...

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19:10 Dec 30, 2022

Always room for a love story, and this one underpins my great love of bread, hot crusty loaves of bread. From bagels in the morning to bread pudding for dessert. Living in South Florida, I learned to appreciate Jewish holiday foods, especially the bread! I've eaten more challah bread than any goy alive. I always wish my older lovers well -- there's always time to fall in love. :)

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Hatt Genette
23:03 Dec 25, 2022

I love bread - ergo any story with bread in it must be good. The results: this is a very good story that can be served with a side of bread.

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23:46 Dec 25, 2022

Agreed on the love of bread. I personally believe that bread should be served with bread, with bread for dessert.

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Bruce Friedman
15:52 Jul 17, 2023

Great warm story as mentioned by many. Researched well. Minor point. In the first para, you say that his business was foundering. I personally need to keep looking up the difference between foundering and floundering. I think that the latter may be more correct here. Foundering means to sink below the water, cave in, fail utterly, or go lame. On the other hand, floundering means to struggle or move with difficulty, as in mud, or to behave awkwardly or make mistakes. One who flounders does not necessarily fail completely, but one who founde...

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Amanda Lieser
20:10 Mar 23, 2023

Hey Deidra, What a creative and delightful take on the prompt. I loved that these characters had such rich back stories and I loved the way you paid true homage to their faiths. I thought you did a fantastic job of weaving in little details and that ending was just perfect. My favorite line was: Now at 57 years old, hair peppered with gray that he quit pretending was flour, he felt his life had been without purpose. Because it characterized someone we don’t really get to meet in the piece directly. Nice work!!

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Marty B
05:50 Jan 02, 2023

Scrumptious!

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15:07 Jan 02, 2023

Have another slice :)

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Lanaism X
22:14 Dec 31, 2022

Greetings from Poland!! It was good <33

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15:07 Jan 02, 2023

Szczęśliwego nowego roku!

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Delbert Griffith
23:30 Dec 29, 2022

Fudge! This was amazing, as per. I was pleased that someone had the talent to write a tale with little dialogue (less than usual, anyway) and turn out a story that had a deep and sustained theme. David, like so many people I know, is caught between tradition and modern sensibilities. In a blinding moment of clarification, he sees what he should have been seeing all along: traditions can be kept, but they must be updated. Colleen, the Irish woman, and David, the traditional Jewish man, show us all that the melting pot (whether it be cultural...

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18:58 Dec 30, 2022

Del, you are a sweetheart. My revolving POV's usually get me in trouble, but I guess I'll just decide it's my quirky trademark style. Great takeaway about updating traditions. I love when comments are more insightful than the story :) Onward. And good luck withthe novel. I'd love to beta read as you go along :)

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Delbert Griffith
19:06 Dec 30, 2022

Of course! You're my literary salvation, Deidra.

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19:10 Dec 30, 2022

Is that an upgrade from a pen pal?

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Delbert Griffith
19:27 Dec 30, 2022

LOL pen pal. Haven't heard that one in a while! You're basically the guru of writing, and if anyone says differently, I'll have words with them. :)

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19:36 Dec 30, 2022

Hey, hey. Calm down killer. You start playing around with words, and you'll end up in a punitentiary.

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Mike Panasitti
22:14 Dec 28, 2022

So, David splurged all his hard-earned profits to buy a goy girl's gingerbread temple? The erotic symbolism is too hard to resist, and what is David's father going to think? This story could be several scenes from "Fiddler on the Roof," revisited. I could hear David sing, "If I paid for poontang," to the tune of "If I were a rich man." But, on a more serious note, Deidra, this tale is about the lunacy of love, as Wendy points out, and whoever has been under its spell can identify.

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19:03 Dec 30, 2022

Tevye: "He loves her. Love, it's a new starting. On the other hand, our old ways were once new, weren't they? On the other hand, they decided without parents, without the matchmaker. On the other hand, did Adam and Eve have a matchmaker? Oh, yes they did. And it seems these two have the same Matchmaker." And the Erotic symbolism? It was subliminally written, I promise (maybe). You know, this is why we can't have nice things, Michael... Love = lunacy --> a dopamine wildfire, the worst chemical burn ever. Happy New Year to one of my favorit...

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Mike Panasitti
21:17 Dec 30, 2022

Thanks for the quote from one of my favorite they-no-longer-make-them-like-they-used-to movies. Despite instinct and the sometimes superhuman effort required to quell it, we can have nice things, Lady Deidra. You're living proof of that. Take care, and have a rock out with no knock out New Year's.

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